Rocky Mountain Whiplash
The Utah Jazz are experiencing offensive highs and lows on an almost game-to-game basis. But it’s nothing unique to this season.
“Rocky Mountain Whiplash”: Both a great name for a killer water ride at an amusement park or possibly the original title for Joe Walsh’s classic hit.
Unfortunately, it’s true reference is to the ride Jazz fans have ridden since the beginning of the 2018-19 Utah Jazz season. Just when you think the team has found its groove, fans are hit with a basketball left turn so sharp there’s little time to recover before the next right turn comes into view.
Should any fans be oblivious to these severe highs and lows, they need only turn to the offense. One night we’re raining threes and the next we can’t buy a bucket...or a ticket (oops...too soon?).
Just look at the numbers! Over the past ten games the Utah Jazz have scored an above average offensive rating five times and a below average offensive rating five times.
Inspect even further. Over the past ten games the Utah Jazz have turned in an eFG% above 60% four times. Impressive, until you notice that five games have been below 50%.
Up and down the roster you’ll notice players on a hot streak (Jae Crowder: 64.7% eFG past 10 games) and others in a shooting slump comparable to Shaquille O’Neale’s free throw shooting (Joe Ingles: 48.4% eFG past 10 games).
The kink our necks, combined with this data, normally would lead to media and fans alike into believing the Jazz to be more streaky than in years past.
However, the team’s eFG% as recorded by Cleaning the Glass shows the Jazz matching last season’s shooting figure of 53.0%. This has led some to ascertain that Utah is shooting the exact same as last year. There are, however, problems with this deduction.
A team’s average shooting percentage is, like most percentages, trying to find a midpoint. Two equal midpoints do not suggest the data is the same.
Suppose two children return home with their report cards. They each scored an 88% (B+) in their sports math class (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves). The makeup of their 88% grade is different. Child A received B’s, B+’s, and A-’s for all of their assignments. Child B, however, received grades ranging from A+’s down to D+’s.
Child A was consistent in their performance that led to an 88%, B+ letter grade. Child B, however, was inconsistent and their erratic performance ended up with a midpoint of 88%. Suggesting the performance of each child is correct in result, but in actual performance, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Such is the case with the Utah Jazz.
A great way to notice these differences is in the use of a bell curve. The more wide and short the curve, the more varied results and inconsistent performance. The thinner and taller the curve, the more consistent results and predictable performance.
At the crest of the curve lies the average. For shooting numbers, the farther to the right the crest of the curve, the higher a shooting average. The opposite is true the further left the crest lies.
Refer to Figure A: this graph compares the Utah Jazz’s eFG% variance to that of the median team in the league. You’ll notice the Jazz (blue) have a short, wide bell curve compared to the tall, thin curve for the median team (orange).
What does this tell us? The Jazz have been inconsistent and all over the map in their journey to their shooting average. Think of the Jazz as Child B, from the above example, and the median team as Child A.
You may notice, however, that the crest of the blue curve is farther to the right than the orange curve. Utah is, in fact, shooting a higher eFG% than average. However, it takes many great and awful shooting nights to land at the average.
Now refer to Figure B: you’ll notice this graph compares this season’s Jazz to themselves of last year in shooting performance (eFG%). The same phenomena is happening. The Jazz 18-19 curve (blue) is dipping and spreading out compared to that of the 17-18 curve (orange) despite the crest of the curve (the average) aligning to be the same.
The Jazz are more inconsistent in their performance than last year, no doubt. But this is nothing new. Over the past two seasons, the Utah Jazz rank #1 and #2 respectfully in highest eFG% variance. Utah also ranks #1 and #2 in offensive rating (ORTG) variance over the same two seasons.
Refer to figures C and D: these are similar to the previous graphs showing comparisons to the median team and to the 17-18 season, only this data is for ORTG. Both graphs show this season’s Utah Jazz team (blue) with a shorter, wider curve.
Currently the Utah Jazz have the 21st ranked offense in the league and the 13th ranked shooting team (eFG%), per Cleaning the Glass. These ranks are disappointing, especially when paired with the highest variability in the league.
The Jazz experience the highest highs and the lowest lows on offense of any team in the league. It’s no wonder Utah Jazz fans follow suit with with wild swings of positive and negative reactions.
This variance has been described by fans as frustrating, crazy, weird, amongst many things. We’ve come up with our own way to describe it: Rocky Mountain Whiplash.